Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Per Al Jazeera, "Twitter user @rutevera posted this to Twitpic:"

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Weather Report

We had another snow storm Sunday and Monday. 10 to 17 inches in the metro area. As a result, we have new heaps on plowed snow. The enormous snow mountain in the St. Paul Sears parking lot is even bigger than before. Everything today was fresh and clean and white under a bright, sunny sky.

I got my taxes done, then went to the rally in support of Wisconsin workers at the Minnesota State Capitol. Patrick works as a policy advocate and spends a lot of time at the Capitol. He says he has never seen a large demonstration in the rotunda. It filled the first floor and the two levels of balconies above the above the first floor. Not packed like the Wisconsin State Capitol, but full. Cops in Police Federation shirts stood at the entrance, thanking everyone for coming. There were union banners hanging from the balconies and lots of union jackets. Teamsters, Steel Workers, SEIU, AFSCME, you name it.

Badger Behavior

Since Wisconsin is the badger state, I looked up the Wikipedia entry on badgers:
Badgers can be fierce animals and will protect themselves and their young at all costs. Badgers are capable of fighting off much larger animals such as wolves and bears. Honey badgers in Africa have been known to fend off multiple lions, hyenas and other dangerous top tier carnivores. The many venomous snakes in Africa are also consumed with ease by the ferocious African Honey Badger...

In 2007 suggestions that British forces released man-eating badgers near Basra, Iraq, to kill terrorists were refuted.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Demonstrations in Libya. The second largest city is now in the control of the demonstrators, and three important tribes have come out in support of the demonstrations and against the government's violent response.

Another wonderful poster from Egypt -- in English with the international peace sign, which originated with the nuclear disarmament movement in England in the 1950s.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


A new storm in the Upper Midwest. 9-17 inches predicted in the Twin Cities metro area. The demonstrators in Madison have been forced inside by the weather there. I went to the local coffee shop before noon and spent a couple of hours revising a new hwarhath story. Now I am back home, about to settle on the couch to read a Tate Hallaway novel.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

From Egypt...

NASA Photo of the Day

A mere 46 million light-years distant, spiral galaxy NGC 2841 can be found in the northern constellation of Ursa Major. This sharp view of the gorgeous island universe shows off a striking yellow nucleus and galactic disk. Dust lanes, small, pink star-forming regions, and young blue star clusters are embedded in the patchy, tightly wound spiral arms. In contrast, many other spirals exhibit grand, sweeping arms with large star-forming regions. NGC 2841 has a diameter of over 150,000 light-years, even larger than our own Milky Way, but this close-up Hubble image spans about 34,000 light-years along the the galaxy's inner region. X-ray images suggest that resulting winds and stellar explosions create plumes of hot gas extending into a halo around NGC 2841.

I keep posting these NASA images (a) to remind myself and everyone that our tax dollars do some wonderful things and (b) because the beauty of the universe is an antidote to the nastiness of human behavior.

Not all human behavior, by any means. The demonstrators in Egypt and Bahrain and the other Arab and African countries and Wisconsin are noble and worthy of the stars.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Army Fires on Demonstrators in Bahrain

Demonstrations in Wisconsin continue. Long live ordinary people and their struggle for rights!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

NASA Astronomy Photo of the Day

On Valentine's Day (ET) the Sun unleashed one of its most powerful explosions, an X-class flare. The blast was the largest so far in the new solar cycle. Erupting from active region AR1158 in the Sun's southern hemisphere, the flare is captured here in this extreme ultraviolet image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The intense burst of electromagnetic radiation momentarily overwhelmed pixels in SDO's detectors causing the bright vertical blemish. This X-class flare was also accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME), a massive cloud of charged particles traveling outward at nearly 900 kilometers per second. Skywatchers at high latitudes should be alert for aurorae tonight.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

Unions in Wisconsin

This is from Firedoglake re the new Republican governor of Wisconsin:
(Governor) Walker and his conservative allies talked about this plan (to break public employee unions) almost immediately after the election, getting support from southern-state Governors with right-to-work laws in place and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has stimulated discussion over this idea in several states since November. The bill would strip workers’ ability to bargain over everything but pay, and salary increases wouldn’t be allowed to increase more than inflation. Furthermore, public employees would have to pay more in health and pension costs, contracts would last only one year at a time, employees would have to re-certify the union annually and individual members would be able to withhold dues from their union. Such stripping of protections invariably leads to poor working conditions, as well as low wages and benefits. That’s why Walker put it into a budget bill.

And this is from the Huffington Post, quoting the Associated Press:
Gov. Scott Walker says the Wisconsin National Guard is prepared to respond wherever is necessary in the wake of his announcement that he wants to take away nearly all collective bargaining rights from state employees.

Walker said Friday that he hasn't called the Guard into action, but he has briefed them and other state agencies in preparation of any problems that could result in a disruption of state services, like staffing at prisons...

The right of private sector employees to be members of unions is governed by federal law, but state and local unions are covered by Wisconsin law. The right to collectively bargain over a broad array of issues, including salary and benefits, is granted under that law. Walker and the Legislature can add or remove negotiable issues by changing that law, the State Employment Labor Relations Act.

There's nothing stopping Walker from proposing a law change, said Paul Secunda, a Marquette University law professor who specializes in labor law.

Obama's Budget

Obama's budget is going to cut heating assistance to low income Americans by 50%.

After Patrick told me this, he asked me to find out the daily cost of the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. The 2011 budget figures work out to 470 million dollars a day.

Per the Cost of War website, the two wars have cost 1 trillion 152 billion dollars to date. We could have rebuilt this country, instead of destroying two distant countries that were no threat to us.

Unions in Egypt

From Common Dreams:
Egypt's military rulers called for an end to strikes and protests Monday as thousands of state employees, from ambulance drivers to police and transport workers, demonstrated to demand better pay in a growing wave of labor unrest unleashed by the democracy uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak's regime.

Military police and soldiers surround remaining protestors as they try to clear Tahir square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday Feb. 14, 2011. Egypt's military rulers dissolved parliament Sunday, suspending the constitution and promising elections in moves cautiously welcomed by pro-democracy protesters.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla) The statement by the ruling military council that took power from Mubarak appeared to be a final warning to protest organizers in labor and professional unions before the army intervenes and imposes an outright ban on gatherings, strikes and sit-ins.

As the US demonstrates, a country that has free elections, but does not have strong unions, is not a working democracy.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mubarak is Gone

Mubarak has resigned, and the army has taken over. Now we see what happens next. The problem is not simply Mubarak, but an oppressive system, that benefits a tiny part of the population, while the rest have far too little.

This is from a 2009 article in The Guardian:
"The proportion of Egyptians living in absolute poverty has risen despite relatively rapid economic growth this decade," Reuters reported in 2007.

Thus the neoliberal economic reforms led by Gamal (Mubarak) and his aides have harmed ordinary Egyptians and benefited well-connected entrepreneurs – 20% of Egyptians own 80% of the country's wealth, according to the United Nations human development report.

The opposition attributes poverty to the corruption of some of Gamal's aides. And they warn that the gap is widening between the two worlds of Gamal and elitists allied to him, and the millions of marginalised Egyptians.

The isolation of Gamal's circle was signified by a recent controversial statement by (steel tycoon Ahmed) Ezz – that the increasing numbers of cars and cell phones in the country indicate that Egyptians are living in luxury. He failed to mention the 43% of Egyptians are living on under $2 a day.

This figure was revealed in the 2009 Arab Human Development Report, along with other shocking facts – such as a 28.6% illiteracy rate. This discredits Gamal's economic vision and undermines the assumption that his succession to Hosni Mubarak can improve Egyptians' quality of life...

Egyptians' dismay is growing: 73% view the economic situation as bad, and 41% think it will worsen, according to a 2009 Pew report. The past few years have witnessed clear signs of popular anger, such as the labour strikes now frequently held. And the regime's crackdown on opposition continues unabated...

This was Egypt prior to January 25, 2011. So what happens next? Free elections? Free labor unions? Jobs? Education? A better distribution of the nation's wealth?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Back from a Trip

I went east to visit relatives last week. The first part of the week was sitting around my brother and sister-in-law's house in Upper New York State, talking, reading, writing and playing with the five cats.

The second part of the week involved a trek to Washington by train to see an art exhibit. I hadn't been in Washington for decades. We were in Georgetown, which is very clean and prosperous, full of government office buildings and foreign embassies. It didn't look like an American city -- too clean and well maintained, with too much official architecture.

My brother pointed out that much of Washington was not prosperous.

I don't travel especially well, though I find the experiences I have while traveling give me a lot to think about. More than anything else, I get a sense of who I am and what my life is like. Being away from home gives me a perspective. And I get images and ideas I can use in my writing.

I took a computer with me, a small netbook. It's the first time I've taken a computer through airport security. No problems there. I went through one of the new scanners that takes pictures of your undies, since I thought it would be simpler than asking for a pat down. However, a security person felt my breasts after the photo was taken, and I got my hands wiped with some kind of damp tissue. No explanation was given. I don't know if it was a random check, or if I need to buy a new kind of bra.

So what did I learn on this trip? Our capitol doesn't look like an American city, and traveling in America is kind of humiliating.

Thursday, February 03, 2011


Six worlds orbit Kepler-11, a sunlike star 2,000 light-years distant in the constellation Cygnus. The new discovery, based on data from NASA's planet hunting Kepler spacecraft, makes the Kepler-11 system the fullest exoplanetary system known. Compared to our Solar System in this illustration, five of Kepler-11's planets orbit closer to their parent star than the Mercury-Sun distance, with orbital periods ranging from 10 to 47 days. All six are larger than Earth and are likely composed of mixtures of rocky material and gas. Their presence, sizes, and masses have been determined by carefully watching the planets dim the light of Kepler-11 while transiting or crossing in front of the star itself. In fact, in August 2010, Kepler's telescope and camera recorded a simultaneous transit of three of the planets in the system. As announced yesterday, using the transit technique the Kepler mission has now identified over 1200 exoplanet candidates in a field of view that covers only about 1/400th of the sky. The tantalizing result suggests there are many undiscovered planets orbiting the stars in our galaxy.